The final frontier?


Optimizing the customer experience is a long-term investment

A recent McKinsey & Company article, exploring the industry’s readiness for the looming travel boom provided some timely and relevant advice to travel and hospitality companies. On the topic of customer experience, it stated, “Invest innovatively to improve the entire customer journey. While cash might continue to be in short supply, an area still worth considering for overinvestment is digital operations. Remember that the customer experience is shaped across the entire end-to-end journey, from booking to travel to the return home.”
Recent investment trends and industry dialogue indicate customer service will continue to be an industry cornerstone and will have a sizeable impact on shaping the future of hospitality and travel
But what exactly is meant by “customer experience” in the hospitality industry? While there are many definitions, one of the more succinct characterizations comes from SaaS provider Zendesk, stating that “Customer experience involves every way a customer interacts with a company at all stages of the customer journey.”
This definition correlates well with the solutions that have been developed for the full journeys of our guests and travelers.
What are the most important criteria when evaluating investment in a robust customer experience platform for your hotel? The answer can get a bit complicated because there are so many variables and so many features dedicated to providing solutions at every step of the guest journey. Top-of-mind products and solutions might include omni-channel guest messaging, more direct bookings, AI chatbots, reputation management, contactless engagement, on-premise transactions, keyless entry, and more. These solutions, all timely, helpful, and relevant, do a great job of leveraging today’s technology to help us communicate more frequently and in new and better ways with our guests.
When making a long-term investment in customer experience, however, it may be worthwhile to think beyond the “now” and consider the long-term benefits of investing in a scalable platform with which your hotel can grow. In other words, hoteliers may want to consider investing in a comprehensive, flexible platform that allows for the implementation of one solution now, and scaling with more extensive solutions as needed in the future. In the long run, the right platform can prepare and support multi-property hospitality and OTAs for years to come.
When considering a guest experience platform, there are two capabilities that aren’t typically top of mind but can go a long way to supporting a company’s long-term goals throughout an unpredictable future. Those two strange bedfellows are technical integration and guest segmentation. Let’s delve a bit deeper.
Brian Burke of Gartner recently published “The Top Strategic Technology Trends of 2021,” in which he explained nine separate trends, including “The Internet of Behaviors.” This “IoB” captures the digital dust of people’s lives from a variety of sources, and that information can be used by public or private entities to influence behavior. The data can come from a range of sources, including commercial customer data, social media, and facial recognition, and as more and more data becomes available, the IoB will capture increasing amounts of this information.
Additionally, the technology that puts all the data together and draws insight is growing increasingly sophisticated. Burke’s perspective may lead some to believe that a platform for the future must be capable today of quickly integrating with myriad systems, including PMS, POS, CRS, OTA, CMS, IOT, MDM, Wi-Fi, and payment gateways, as well as communication channels like email, voice, SMS, WeChat, WhatsApp, Alexa, Google Home, and more. Right now, providing seamless integration into these systems is probably the best indicator of the platform’s flexibility and readiness to adapt and integrate with technologies of the future, which may not even exist yet.
When evaluating customer experience platforms, you need to determine whether the platform is scalable. For example, can a hotel start by introducing (and paying for) only one product module and then grow guest experience capabilities over time, on their own schedule, on one single integrated platform? Has the platform already demonstrated rapid deployment and speedy integration capabilities? If a platform cannot integrate today’s tech with speed, then tomorrow’s tech may not be integrated until it becomes obsolete. Has the platform already integrated with industry leaders like Oracle, Sabre, and Agilysys, as well as other smaller providers?
It’s difficult to identify the “internet of things” integration that will be required by robust guest experience platforms in the future. For example, the “original” flip phone of the 1990s still hasn’t led to the capabilities of the truly original flip phone used by Captain Kirk and Spock.
The Gartner paper also speaks of “hyper-automation” as a key tech trend of 2021. Does the guest experience platform your hotel may be considering leverage automation in a meaningful way that puts micro-segmentation to work 24/7, without any human oversight? In other words, can you automatically greet VIP guests with one message, high-frequency guests with a different message, while also providing all spa enthusiasts with a valuable offer and simultaneously alerting appropriate staff that a guest in room 109 at your Albuquerque property has just complained about bugs in the room? Does your platform automate follow-up until staff confirms the issue has been resolved to the guest’s satisfaction? Is your platform ready to utilize hyper-automation in a way that monetizes ever-growing unique guest profiles and the micro-segmentation that it enables?
Of course, investing in a messaging app with survey capability that reaches more of today’s guests is a very good thing. These communication techniques will soon become the norm and guest expectations will coincide. At the same time, a comprehensive scalable platform can keep you ahead of guest expectations and quickly become the epicenter of your guest experience management and remain so for decades to come.
What is your prime directive?
Ultimately all this technology integration isn’t worth much to the hospitality industry if it fails to improve the guest and traveler journey. Some things to consider that will help to ensure hotelier success:

  • Does the platform store and organize this tidal wave of data within unified guest profiles that never stop growing?
  • If you are already committed to a database system, does the guest experience platform integrate guest data smoothly into your existing guest database?
  • Can the guest experience platform allow you to easily isolate data points through micro-segmentation to create and reach highly targeted audiences?
  • Can you leverage this segmentation by simultaneously creating a relevant communication using your hotel’s own custom content and beautiful imagery?
  • Ultimately, does this unified guest profile, micro-segmentation, and campaign implementation lead to improved guest satisfaction and, importantly, new revenue opportunity?

francis x. garcia

Francis X. Garcia is VP Marketing & Development with VenueLytics, a supplier of complex backend integration solutions, as well as analytics and AI services. He can be reached at (408) 833-9987 or .

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